Oil spill could take emotional toll amid environmental disaster

It has been nearly a week since oil began seeping into the Pacific Ocean just miles off the coast of Southern California, and the impacts of that the oil spill may reach beyond the coastal environment.

Amplify Energy Corp. first noticed a drop in pressure in an underwater oil pipeline early in the morning on Saturday, Oct. 2. Since then, it is estimated that between 30,000 and 126,000 gallons of oil have spewed into the coastal waters, The Associated Press reported.

One of the leading theories behind the cause of the oil spill is that a ship's anchor struck the underwater pipeline, but officials have yet to determine the exact cause of the environmental disaster.

Several beaches have been closed along the coast near the site of the oil spill, including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Newport Harbor and Laguna Beach.

"Huntington and Newport are very popular for swimming, sailing and surfing," Professor Lawrence Palinkas told AccuWeather Multimedia Journalist Jillian Angeline. Palinkas works at the University of Southern California School of Social Work and has looked into the human impact of the oil spill.

"The water at this point is quite toxic. Surfers have been advised not to go out in the water," he said.

USC Professor Lawrence Palinkas talking about the oil spill off the coast of Southern California. (AccuWeather / Jillian Angeline)

While the environment is taking the biggest toll from the oil spill, it has far-reaching impacts beyond the beaches.

"There will be individuals who will feel a sense of loss over the degradation of the environment," Palinkas said.

Solastalgia can occur during any event, either natural or human-created, that damages the environment or landscape. This includes events such as wildfires, drought, flooding or tornadoes.

People who have these emotional reactions to the oil spill are experiencing what is known as solastalgia. This can occur when people experience a loss in the physical environment, and it can lead to depression or anxiety.


While the full scope of the ongoing oil spill is still being assessed, people such as Dr. Nancy Kinner are already gathering information that can be used to help the environment in the long term. Kinner works at the Coastal Response Research Center, located at the University of New Hampshire, which coordinates with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when events like these unfold.

"Oil spills are bad; they're never good. What we're trying to do in response is make them the least bad we can," Kinner told Angeline. Acting quickly is key to protecting as much as possible from the spreading oil and to lessening the severity that the spill has across the ecosystem.

Cleanup crews are currently using mobile barriers called booms that sit in the water and prevent the oil from reaching areas such as marshes, canals, beaches and other coastal environments.

A floating barrier known as a boom is set up to try to stop further incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

"Right now, there are scientists from NOAA and from state agencies and from Fish and Wildlife that are out gathering information, baseline information from unoiled areas and information from oiled areas," Kinner said.

The response team is not only worried about the immediate death of birds and fish but also the impacts to the wildlife that could lead to harm in the aftermath of the disaster.

"The organisms that are not killed but have damage to them that impacts their ability to reproduce, that impacts their ability to swim, and you can imagine if you cannot swim that fast because you've been impacted by oil, you are now more likely to become eaten," Kinner said.

It's important to know not only what has been damaged but also how to help restore the environment to the state that it was in before the oil spill occurred, Kinner explained. This involves a damage assessment and funds that are provided by the party responsible for the oil spill.

Dr. Nancy Kinner talking about the environmental impact of oil spills. (AccuWeather / Jillian Angeline)

The weather plays a major role in the damage assessment, especially across the coastal environment.

"There are a lot of weather factors that will influence how widely distributed the oil is and whether or not it will require extended closures of beaches," Palinkas said.

This includes weather variables such as wind direction and ocean swells.

An aerial photo shows workers in protective suits cleaning the contaminated beach after an oil spill in Newport Beach, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. A major oil spill off the coast of Southern California fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled Sunday, to contain the crude before it spread further into protected wetlands. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The scope of this oil spill pales in comparison to the Deep Water Horizon, which spewed around 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"Even though the spill may seem small in comparison to spills that we've experienced over the past 30 to 40 years, it still constitutes a significant impact on the Southern California coastline," Palinkas said.

It is the biggest oil spill in Southern California since the Santa Barbara oil spill in the late 1960s, which helped to set off the modern environmental movement.

Reporting by Jillian Angeline.

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